The Critical Role of Outdoor Playtime for Preschoolers

Outdoor playtime is not just another environment for play—it also provides a rich learning opportunity that benefits a child’s development. Allowing curious preschoolers to play outside gives them the opportunity to ask questions, learn about their surroundings, and learn about themselves. They are free to make messes, run and jump, shout and squeal, and explore the world around them. Children don’t face the obstacles and limitations placed on them inside and as a result, their true personality emerges as they face the unique challenges of the great outdoors.

Outdoor Playtime for Kids Doing Yoga on Playground

The Benefits of Outdoor Playtime

Outdoor play promotes exploration, helps to build fine and gross motor skills, and encourages physical exercise for cardiovascular health. The outdoors is the perfect setting for physical activity, and presents a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to join in. Outdoor playtime can strengthen family relationships through quality together time, encourage memory-making, all while teaching children about the environment.

Recommended Physical Activity

Outdoor Playtime for Boy Playing in Splashpad

The U.S. Department of Education refers to the preschool years as “the most critical in his or her life to influence learning.” Early childhood is key to development because it affects the transition into the K-12 environment where other factors can influence learning. Good habits start early in life, so it is important to build a good foundation for physical activity that children will continue to build upon as they grow. The National Institutes of Health recommends that children have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, whether in one or multiple sessions. The full benefits of outdoor play can not be achieved when children spend all of their play time indoors or on electronic devices, so it is crucial to let them play outside.

A Whole New World

Preschoolers can not yet understand conventional ideas and explanations about the world. They deal with this difference in understanding by creating their own ideas and explanations through pretend play and creative stories. Pretend play encourages creativity and problem solving, dealing with emotions, and learning self-control. Outdoor playtime gives preschoolers an environment that is free from the distractions of screens and electronics, promoting independent play, imagination, and creativity.

Outdoor Activities for Preschoolers

Outdoor Playtime for Children Gardening

There are many outdoor activities and games to engage preschoolers without becoming bored. Here are five suggestions for outdoor activities for your preschooler.

  • Scavenger Hunts. Preschoolers can explore the outdoors to find and collect items, then match them to colors or objects specified by a list of pictures or words.
  • Hopscotch. On paved outdoor surfaces, preschoolers can use sidewalk chalk to draw hopscotch boxes and numbers and enjoy playing in their creation. Parents can vary this activity by drawing color-coded boxes or different shapes and calling out a specific color or shape for the child to locate.
  • Gardening. This is a versatile activity that helps involve a preschooler in an ongoing process. A preschooler can plant seeds in the ground or potted soil, and learn about the growing process with ongoing watering and monitoring of the growing plant.
  • Chalk Drawing. Preschoolers can exercise their creativity by using chalk to draw with on a paved outdoor surface or chalkboard. This is especially helpful in helping a preschooler practice grasping and drawing with a writing utensil to prepare them for kindergarten.
  • Games. Simple and traditional games such as tag, follow-the-leader, or kickball can be engaging outdoor activities for the whole family. It promotes physical activity and gross motor skills while helping a child explore their capabilities.

Effects on Future Development

A healthy childhood is improved by the skills and experiences learned outdoors. The opportunity for preschoolers to experiment and take risks, make discoveries, practice and test their limits, and creatively express themselves are all key developmental factors. While children can have numerous positive learning experiences inside, the obstacles faced indoors restrict some physical activities and active play. Outdoor playtime activities allow for a fuller and happier childhood, and generate lasting childhood memories. Most importantly, a positive childhood experience is fundamental to the transition into a positive adulthood.

Parent Resources


Tips to get kids moving from Live Science:
  • Lead by example – parents should be role models for their children by showing them that they prioritize an active lifestyle and make time for it.
  • Mix it up – expose children to a wide variety of sports and activities, so that they can find out what they like to do.
  • Be creative – make up your own rules for an old game, or invent a brand new one!
  • Use fun equipment – like balls, jump ropes, hula hoops…anything to get them moving.
  • Move during screen time – stand up and do the “commercial boogie” in between shows.
  • Make it family time – dedicate time for family fun and fitness.

For more on each school:

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